When Quinn Taketa began sharing her thesis film Part of Your World on social media, she didn’t expect it to go viral. Within a few days, the short film has garnered over 78k views on Twitter, and gained acclaim on LinkedIn and NewGrounds as well. Taketa is an American animator currently living in Vancouver. She has seven years of experience as a freelance illustrator, and is a recent graduate of the Vancouver Film School’s Classical Animation Program.
Part of Your World is a two-minute film which tells the story of a fisher who pulls a mermaid from the sea. The film has impeccable comedic timing, expressive characters, and an illustrative visual style. This combination of elements allows for a succinct narrative that requires no dialogue.
We reeled in Taketa to learn about the experience of making her thesis film using Toon Boom Harmony, and what’s next in her animation career.
In Part of Your World, a fisher makes an unexpected catch. When they pull a mermaid from the sea, it seems like it may be love at first sight — but things take a turn. What inspired this story?
The idea for this film came to me very suddenly and unexpectedly. I was actually supposed to submit the design package for my proposed student film for my program at Vancouver Film School that week. That film had a completely different setting and story.
I wouldn’t say there was a specific source of inspiration. During one of my story classes, in which I was actually pitching my original film idea, the image of a mermaid flopping around on a deck like a fish popped into my head… and it made me laugh! As I thought about this image more, and the story that could accompany it, I realized that it was more in line with my sense of humour. So, despite my design package being due that week, I made the decision to switch stories.
Despite having to rush to put together a new design package with blocking, character turnarounds and more, I knew that my snap decision was the right one. The other film I’d planned had a completely different style, and I think it would have been too ambitious. The more I developed the design package for Part of Your World, the more I realized it was the right choice.
What were some sources of inspiration for Part of Your World, in terms of visual style?
I’ve been a freelance illustrator for seven years. I decided to go to Vancouver Film School because I wanted to transition into working in animation. I’ve always wanted to illustrate a storybook, so I wanted my film to have a storybook feel.
For Part of Your World much of my inspiration came from the work of E.H. Shepard, watercolor painter and illustrator of the original Winnie the Pooh books. His impressive watercolors inspired much of the look of Part of Your World. In addition, Bill Peet was another major influence. He was an American children’s book illustrator, and a story writer and animator for Walt Disney Animation Studios. I love the texture and look of the illustrations in his children’s book, Whingdingdilly (1970).
Can you tell us how you developed the visual style for your short? How did the visual style impact your process and the finished film?
I knew that I wanted the visual style of the film to be simple to animate, and I wanted it to be reflective of my illustration style. Much like the illustrations of Shepard, I wanted the film to look like a hand drawn storybook, but one that had movement.
Years ago, a friend of mine created a pencil brush for Clip Studio called Psudopencil that I’ve used religiously. I knew I wanted to replicate the look that the brush gave my illustrations in the film. However; there were many things I would do with the brush when illustrating that just couldn’t be replicated in a practical manner when it came to animation.
The transparent properties of the brush give it a lovely watercolor feel when used on a white canvas, but if painted on what is basically the digital equivalent of a transparent animation cell, it would make the characters completely transparent. I could have done a white fill on the characters and then painted on top of that, but due to the textured nature of the brush, an inconsistent texture boil would be a byproduct.
The only way to make the boil consistent would be to individually color every frame of animation, including the held poses. This was simply not feasible in the amount of time I had to complete the film. I also worried that a constant texture boil on the characters would be distracting for viewers. I needed to figure out a way to get the look that I wanted without burying myself in extra work or missing any deadlines.
Thankfully, the Digital Ink and Paint instructor at Vancouver Film School is a skilled and experienced compositor who has been using Toon Boom for many years. He shared with me some of his extensive knowledge of the node library and experience with the program. His guidance helped me to achieve the look I wanted using Toon Boom. While the backgrounds were all illustrated in Clip Studio Paint using the Psudopencil, the characters are entirely colored and composited in Toon Boom. The end product turned out pretty well!
What aspects of making Part of Your World were the most surprising, or challenging?
The COVID-19 pandemic was the biggest and most unexpected challenge that I encountered. Most of the challenge was because Vancouver Film School’s Classical Animation course is taught almost entirely on pencil and paper. Students are set up with their own work space at the school that has everything a traditional animator could need, like a desk with an animation disk and light box, and plenty of animation paper.
In making my student film, I intended to draw and clean my animation on paper, scan the drawings, and then do the compositing on Toon Boom. When lockdowns came into effect, I no longer had access to the equipment on Vancouver Film School’s campus, as all classes were moved online.
Without access to the usual equipment, I had to adjust the way I worked. Fortunately, the Vancouver Film School was able to provide the equipment I would need to work digitally, like a tower computer for schoolwork, and licenses for all the programs I would need to animate and edit the film.
The first five weeks of my animation schedule I worked on an 11-inch iPad connected to the PC the school had lent me through a program called Duet. That was a bit of a challenge. But, Vancouver Film School was eventually able to provide a larger tablet for animating. From there on out it was much easier. Given the circumstances it’s completely understandable that the tablet took longer to sort out, and I still think they did a fantastic job taking care of their students during such an unprecedented time.
We noticed that your two characters are so expressive. How did you approach the facial animation?
Scott McCloud is an American cartoonist and comics theorist who has written about how simple faces can actually make a character more relatable for audiences. The simpler a character’s face, the easier it is for a viewer to put themselves in that character’s shoes.
I had this in mind during character design, especially since a simple face would be easier to animate. But I had to balance this with the fact that the film has no dialogue. Without dialogue, the expressiveness of the characters was very important. Despite having simple faces, I was pleasantly surprised by how much expression I was able to convey through them.
I’d actually done an earlier sound cut for Part of Your World with the school’s sound supervisor that included some vocalizations from the main character, the fisher. She let out some gasps, grunts, and other reactions. When I heard the sound cut that included the fisher’s audible reactions, it didn’t feel right to me. Having spent so much time meticulously animating the film, I had grown accustomed to her being silent. After hearing that initial cut, I decided to go with my gut, and so, other than the mermaid’s gasps, the film has no dialogue.
It can be challenging to fit such a compelling story into less than 2 minutes. How did this shape your project?
Since this film was a project for my program, there were guidelines I had to follow in making it. One of the guidelines was around length – our student films could be no longer than two minutes. The length restraint was a challenge, but because I knew that I had that parameter to follow before I started conceptualizing the film, I was able to brainstorm narratives that would comfortably fit within two minutes or less.
Once I had decided on a story, I relied on input from instructors and fellow students in helping to nail down the plot points. I worked through multiple storyboards, and implemented many revisions. For example, I had originally meant for the boat to be a small rowboat, and for it to be floating on a pond rather than a lake.
The mermaid stealing the bait bucket was actually a last minute idea. I had initially intended for the fisher to look over and see that all her bait had gone, but one of my instructors suggested that showing the mermaid take the bucket would be a stronger comedic touch. So I added that joke, followed by the credits rolling as she eats the bait.
Were there features in Toon Boom Harmony that you learned about, or found particularly useful, while working on this production?
Prior to attending Vancouver Film School, I hadn’t used Toon Boom. I was introduced to it early in the program, and while I felt initially overwhelmed, I quickly fell in love with how it simplifies traditional animation. Although Harmony was complex to learn, once I was comfortable with it I found it superior to the other animation software I had access to in the program.
I really like how compartmentalized the features of Toon Boom are. For example, using Node view, which allows you to connect effects and compositing nodes to form a network, or node system. I found this feature helpful for setting up a hierarchy of nodes and digital rigs. And, nodes make it simple to add and subtract elements without impacting the base animation. There’s no need to go back and redraw an element if you find you don’t like an effect that you’ve added, for example.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming animators that are working on their student films?
I don’t know that I’m necessarily in a position to be giving advice! I’ve only been a professional animator for about a week. After graduating from Vancouver Film School, I got a job at an animation studio in Vancouver. Landing this job is definitely in part thanks to my film.
First, I think it’s important to say: Making a film is hard. It’s important to remember that what you are doing is incredibly difficult. If you feel overwhelmed or stressed, try not to worry about feeling that way. It isn’t a sign of weakness. Making a film is hard, and all film students are grappling with it.
Second, don’t be afraid to rely on the support that you have, both emotional and instructional. I want to make it very clear that I would not have been able to make this film to the quality that it is without the fantastic instructors at Vancouver Film School. Support from my instructors, fellow students, and my partner was so integral to getting through my program and finishing my film. Make sure to bounce ideas off others, especially those with more experience. You can also look to online resources for help. For example, I found many useful Toon Boom tutorials on YouTube.
How have you felt about the positive reception of Part of Your World?
Once the film was complete, I decided I would share it on as many platforms as possible. I shared on Vimeo, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. When I began sharing it, I did not at all expect Part of Your World to reach such a large viewership. It’s had a great response on Twitter, and surprisingly, on LinkedIn as well. I was excited that the founder of NewGrounds reached out to me about the film. It’s now viewable on their site as well.
What’s next for you in your animation career — any upcoming projects in the works?
I’m working full time for an animation studio here in Vancouver. In my free time, I’m working on the design package for my next film. This next film will be another short, about 3-minutes long. I’m not in a rush to complete it — now that I am out of school I can go at a pace that works with my schedule.
I personally believe in planning production in detail before beginning animation. If there’s one thing I learned in school it’s that pre-production is an integral part of the filmmaking process. So far, I’ve got one or two sketches done. I’ll continue working towards laying all the groundwork for the film, at a pace that works for me.
Have you been hooked by Quinn Taketa’s work? You can find more illustrations, storyboards and comics on her portfolio.